The story of Esther begins in the royal halls of the Persian king, Xerxes. It’s difficult to know exactly which ruler the story is referring to, since the names of kings were shared down through generations. But it is within the realm of possibility that this Xerxes is the Xerxes.
A little history lesson will help you see why he is so important. Xerxes was the grandson of Cyrus the Great. Cyrus was the ruler who allowed the Jewish people to return home after the Babylonians had captured them and destroyed Jerusalem (the books of Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah all talk about this terrible time). Because Cyrus allowed the Jewish people to return home, many Jews supported the Persian empire and even stayed behind to continue living in foreign lands.
All that is to say, people liked Xerxes. His family had been friendly to the Jews, and there was no reason to think he wouldn’t continue that trend. But still, Xerxes was no pushover. If you have ever heard of the story of the 300 Spartans, this was the king they were fighting against. In an age where someone could conquer a continent with twenty thousand men in their army – Persia could amass a force of nearly half-a-million soldiers.
Xerxes and the Persians knew no limits, and that shows through in this opening scene. The beginning of Esther records an excessive, almost ridiculous, banquet. Xerxes has invited leaders from across the land to view his wealth and party for over six months. The attendees were surrounded by gold, jewels, and endless wine. There were no restrictions, and as we will soon see, no safeguards against senseless actions.
Off to the side, there is a second banquet run by Xerxes’ queen: Vashti. Whereas Xerxes’s banquet takes a paragraph to describe, Vashti’s is summarized in a single sentence. The narrator uses this to help us see how different the king and queen truly are. It’s this difference which will incite the coming events.
Esther is a story of risk and redemption. But it is also a story of restraint.
On one side, we will see characters with no limits who do what they want, when they want, regardless of the consequences. On the other, we will watch characters who move from a place of wisdom rather than from a place of fear or anger.
We always have a choice on how we will act in a certain situation. What the majority does, is not what we have to do. Sometimes, standing out from the crowd can ruin your life, but other times it can save it.
Takeaway: Excess, in any area of life, will eventually lead to pain.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have given me this one life. Please help me live with wisdom, moderation, and boldness.